Six-time Hugo Award winner Ben Bova chronicles the saga of humankind's expansion beyond the solar system in Apes and Angels, the second book of the Star Quest Trilogy which began with Death Wave.
Humankind headed out to the stars not for conquest, nor exploration, nor even for curiosity. Humans went to the stars in a desperate crusade to save intelligent life wherever they found it.
A wave of death is spreading through the Milky Way galaxy, an expanding sphere of lethal gamma radiation that erupted from the galaxy's core twenty-eight thousand years ago and now is approaching Earth's vicinity at the speed of light. Every world it touched was wiped clean of all life. But it’s possible to protect a planet from gamma radiation. Earth is safe.
Now, guided by the ancient intelligent machines called the Predecessors, men and women from Earth seek out those precious, rare worlds that harbor intelligent species, determined to save them from the doom that is hurtling toward them.
The crew of the Odysseus has arrived at Mithra Gamma, the third planet of the star Mithra, to protect the stone-age inhabitants from the Death Wave. But they’ll also have to protect themselves.
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Apes and Angels
By Ben Bova
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2016 Ben Bova
All rights reserved.
Discoveries are often made by not following instructions, by going off the main road, by trying the untried.
— Frank Tyger
Adrian Kosoff stood at the rail of the balcony circling the starship's main auditorium, smiling like a genial paterfamilias at the young men and women down on the main floor celebrating their arrival at Mithra's planet Gamma.
There were almost twelve hundred scientists and engineers on the expedition's technical staff: mostly young, mostly recent graduates from the best schools on Earth, all of them volunteers for this star mission, all of them aware that they had exiled themselves from their homes and everything they knew back on Earth, all of them happy to have completed the two-hundred-light-year voyage successfully. After two years of training on Earth and two hundred years sleeping away the distance to Mithra, they had arrived at last at their destination.
Kosoff was a burly figure of a man, thick torso and limbs, his bearded face square and blunt-featured, his eyes a piercing blue, his thick mop of mahogany-dark hair and bristling beard showing streaks of gray that he refused to alter with rejuvenation treatments.
"We've made the trip here to the Mithra system successfully," he said to the men and women looking up to him, his amplified voice booming godlike across the auditorium. "No human being has ever traveled so far from Earth. This night we celebrate our safe arrival. Tomorrow we begin the task of saving the intelligent creatures of planet Gamma from the death wave."
They applauded. They cheered. Then they started their celebration, mixing and swirling across the auditorium floor. Music sounded. Some couples began to dance. Others headed for the makeshift bars that had been set up along one side of the cavernous room. Laughter and the sounds of conversations filled the air.
The key leaders among the technical staff were almost all former students of Kosoff's or students of his graduates. Kosoff thought of himself as the respected — even revered — leader of this scientific expedition. Head of the family. He knew that some of the younger echelons thought of him as a beneficent dictator, even an enlightened tyrant. So be it, he told himself.
Satisfied that the celebration was well and truly launched, Kosoff turned from the railing and went to the table where the ship's captain was sitting behind a collection of bottles and glasses.
Kosoff sat across the table from Rampalji Desai, captain of Odysseus. Nominally, Desai was Kosoff's superior, but the two men had formed a friendly partnership: Kosoff ran the technical staff, Desai ran the starship. Conflicts between them were nonexistent, so far. Of course, like all the humans aboard Odysseus, they had both slept the two centuries of the voyage in cryonic suspended animation.
Desai was actually several centimeters taller than Kosoff, but so lean and quiet in demeanor that he gave the impression of being the smaller man. Dark of skin and hair, his eyes were large and liquid, nearly feminine, and his voice was almost always hushed — but when he had to, he could roar out a command that made everyone on the bridge jump to comply.
Now, leaning slightly across the bottles and glasses scattered on the round table that separated the two of them, Desai pointed to the partying throng below and said in his soft, almost lyrical voice:
"They seem to be enjoying themselves."
"Why not?" said Kosoff. "They've arrived safely, thanks to you and your crew." Nodding toward the wall screen that showed the lushly green planet they orbited, he added, "Tomorrow they begin the task of saving the natives of the planet. Tonight, it's eat, drink, and be merry."
"I think perhaps they are happy that their memory uploads were successful."
Kosoff waved a hand airily. "I'm not so sure they're celebrating the uploads. There are plenty of memories that I'd rather have done without."
Desai smiled, gleaming white teeth against his glistening dark skin. "Ah, but you have led a vigorous life. Very vigorous, from what I've heard." Gesturing at the gyrating crowd below, he went on, "They are mere children, they don't have any regrets that they want to forget."
"Not yet," said Kosoff, dead serious.
Desai merely sighed.
Brad MacDaniels leaned his lanky frame against the makeshift bar that had been set up on the auditorium's floor and sipped at his lime juice.
He was an impressive figure, just a fraction of a centimeter over two meters tall, slender as a laser beam, his unruly dirty-blond hair flopping across his brow, his pale green eyes watching his fellow passengers enjoying themselves.
The youngest member of the anthropology team, Brad had the reputation of being a loner, but in truth he longed to be in the midst of the festivities — he simply didn't know how to do it without making a liar of himself.
The French among the scientists called him "deux metres"; the others, "Beanpole" and "Skyhook" and less gentle nicknames. Brad accepted their ribbing with a slow smile and a patient shrug, but inwardly he stung from their attempts to humiliate him.
Born and raised at the Tithonium Chasma scientific base on Mars, Brad had never been to Earth until he volunteered for a star mission. He had survived the avalanche disaster that had wiped out half the base on Mars, including both his parents and his younger brother. He had cremated his family, then helped rebuild the base and gone on to win a doctorate in anthropology for himself. He had volunteered for the star mission, knowing that he would be leaving everything he had known behind him, forever.
Good riddance, he told himself.
He kept his hurts to himself; he bore a scar that he never showed, an inner wound that bled every day, every night, every minute. If they knew, he told himself, it would kill me. They would all hate me.
So he stood leaning against the bar, alone in the middle of the swirling, dancing, laughing throng.
"Hey, Skyhook, why so glum?"
It was Larry Untermeyer, a fellow anthropologist, short and a little pudgy, with a lopsided grin on his round face.
"C'mon, Brad, join the party, for Chrissakes. You look like a flickin' totem pole."
Larry gripped Brad's wrist and towed him out among the dancers. "God knows we're not gonna be partying like this for a looong time," Larry shouted over the din of the music and the crowd. "So enjoy yourself."
And he left Brad standing amidst the dancers. Brad could sense people eying him, a solitary beanpole poking up in the middle of the crowd. For several agonizingly long moments Brad just stood there, trying to think of what he should be doing.
Then a dark-haired, good-looking young woman glided up to him and held out both her hands. With a smile she asked, "Like to dance?"
Brad made himself smile back at her and took her hands in his. She was tiny, not even up to his shoulder. Brad recognized the game. His erstwhile buddies had talked the woman into getting Brad to dance. They thought it would be funny to see the Skyhook stumbling across the floor with a tiny partner.
Brad took her firmly in his arms and stepped out in rhythm to the blaring music. He felt a trifle awkward but, calling up the memory of his school-day dance lessons, he quickly caught the beat. Just don't step on her feet, he warned himself.
Craning her neck to look up at him, she said, "My name's Felicia Portman. Biology."
Brad saw that she was really pretty. Gray eyes, deep and sparkling. Trim figure. "I'm —"
"Brad MacDaniels, I know," Felicia said. "Anthropology."
"Right." And Brad realized that they all must know the beanpole that stuck up above everybody's head.
The song ended and she led him out of the crowd of dancers, toward the tables arranged along the side wall of the auditorium. Felicia pointed a manicured finger to a table that was already half filled.
"Some of my bio teammates," she said.
Brad followed her and folded himself into a chair beside her as she introduced the others. A robot trundled up and took their drink orders.
"Lime juice?" asked one of the other guys.
Brad nodded. "I'm sort of allergic to alcohol."
"Allergies can be fixed," said one of the others.
"It's not an allergy, really," Brad said, trying to keep his face from showing the embarrassment he felt. "Not in the medical sense."
"Ah ... a psychological problem."
Felicia changed the subject. "What's an anthropologist doing on this mission? Why do we have an anthro team, anyway?"
"Yeah. They stuck you people on board the same day we left Earth orbit. Like you were a last-minute idea."
"Besides, the creatures down on the planet aren't human. What's an anthropologist going to do with them?"
Brad answered, "We're not here to study the aliens. We're here to study you."
"What do you mean?"
"The people here on this ship form a compact group isolated from other human societies," Brad explained. "It's an ideal laboratory to study the evolution of a unique society. All of the star missions have anthropology teams with them."
"I'll be damned."
"I don't know if I like being the subject of a study."
"Well, you are," said Brad, "whether you like it or not."
The looks on their faces around the table ranged from curious amusement to downright hostility.
Brad said, "We're only a small team: twelve people. I'm the juniormost."
"We'd all better be on our best behavior," Felicia said with a grin.
Several of them laughed and the tension eased away.
* * *
As the party finally wound down, Brad walked Felicia to her quarters, squeezed her hand gently as he said goodnight, then left her at her door and went along the curving corridors until he found his own compartment.
He stripped and slid into bed, the only light in the room coming from the wall screen, which showed the planet they were orbiting: green from pole to pole, except for some grayish wrinkles of mountains and a few glittering seas here and there.
Hands clasped behind his head, Brad dreaded the inevitable sleep and the inescapable dream that it brought. He recalled the poem that was never far from his consciousness:
They cannot scare me with their empty spaces
Between stars — on stars where no human race is.
I have it in me so much nearer home
To scare myself with my own desert places.
Brad saw Professor Kosoff a few paces ahead of him, striding purposefully along the corridor, a sturdy, compact bear of a man, marching as if he were leading a parade.
He caught up with the staff's director in two long-legged strides.
"Good morning, sir," said Brad.
Kosoff seemed almost startled. He looked up at Brad, frowning slightly. Then, "Ahh, MacDaniels, isn't it? Anthropology."
Implanted communicator, Brad figured. Instant link with the ship's master computer.
"Yes, sir," he answered. "I've been assigned to sit in on the planetology team's meeting this morning."
Kosoff broke into a slightly malicious grin. "Studying the tribe in its native habitat, eh?"
"That's what anthropologists do, sir."
"Fine. Fine," Kosoff said airily. "I've decided to attend their meeting myself."
For two months the scientific staff had been studying the planet and its inhabitants — remotely. Surveillance satellites had been established in orbit around both Mithra Alpha and Gamma. The satellites were loaded with sensors that measured the alien worlds' atmospheres, Alpha's all-encompassing ocean, Gamma's globe-spanning forests, and particularly the primitive villages that dotted Gamma's landscape.
The life forms in the planet-wide ocean of Mithra Alpha showed no obvious signs of intelligence, although they seemed to communicate among themselves, like the whales of Earth. Odysseus's scientists concentrated their attention on Mithra Gamma.
Only the leaders of the planetology team were present for this meeting, yet there were more than two dozen men and women filing into the conference room. Brad watched them from the door as they took their seats at the long, polished conference table. They assembled themselves in what seemed like a random, unhierarchical pattern, except for the department chief, who sat himself at the head of the table, of course.
What are the relationships among these people? Brad asked himself. What's their pecking order?
He saw that Kosoff casually pulled out a chair for himself halfway down the table, next to an attractive blonde. But all eyes shifted from the department head to Kosoff as he sat down.
There was one nonhuman member of the conference: the ship's master computer. It contained all the data that had been amassed so far. The holographic displays along the walls of the room all bore the same computer-generated human face, bland-looking and inoffensive. It had been drawn by the ship's psychologists to be as attractive as possible to the multiracial staff: golden tawny skin, slightly almond cast to the eyes, high cheekbones, downy hair of sandy brown. And smiling, always smiling, so that the humans it worked with and for would find it friendly no matter what it reported.
Brad almost smiled back at it as he took a chair near the foot of the table.
The chairman — Dr. Olav Pedersen, a dour-looking lean and pale Scandinavian — called the meeting to order. Then he said, in his slightly nasal voice:
"The master computer has analyzed the orbital data we have obtained so far, and has some very interesting — even disturbing — conclusions to share with us."
Without preamble, the synthesized face of the master computer said flatly, "This planetary system is unstable."
One of the women halfway down the table challenged, "How could an intelligent species arise on a planet that has an unstable orbit? It takes billions of years for intelligence to develop." Brad noticed that she looked at Kosoff as she spoke.
The master computer's avatar replied blandly, "The system was not always unstable. Some incident altered the orbits of the planets Beta and Gamma into unstable elliptical paths and pushed Mithra Alpha into its current star-hugging orbit. Very likely there were other planets in the system that were either ejected into interstellar space by the incident, or perhaps pushed into the star itself."
"An incident, you say," Kosoff said to the face on the wall screen. "How did it happen? And when?"
The computer's avatar replied, "Insufficient data. It is clear that something has disrupted the planets' orbits, probably slightly more than a hundred thousand Earth years ago. But what that something was is unknown at this time."
One of the younger men asked, "Will the system break up, Emcee?"
"Emcee?" Kosoff asked.
Looking slightly embarrassed, the young man said, "Master Computer: Emcee. It sort of humanizes it, a little."
Kosoff smiled at him. "Yes, I suppose it does."
Brad nodded to himself and thought, He's trying to go a step farther. The psychologists drew a human face for the computer; he's given it a name. Makes it easier to work with the machine, apparently.
Fodder for his notes and, eventually, the report he would write.
Emcee resumed, "Planet Gamma is now approaching its perihelion —"
"The closest it gets to its star," Kosoff interjected.
Unperturbed, Emcee continued, "Once it passes its perihelion it will begin its long swing away from Mithra. Conditions on the planet's surface will become colder, even frigid."
"Will the aliens be able to survive their winter?" the department chief asked.
"They apparently have, in the past."
But Kosoff said, "We'd better get our work done quickly, before conditions on the planet's surface become too difficult for us."
"That would be a wise course to take," said the master computer.
Dr. Pedersen asked, "Is it really necessary to make contact with the natives? Why can't we plant the energy screen devices in uninhabited locations around the planet and leave the aliens undisturbed?"
Kosoff shook his head vigorously. "To come two hundred light-years to a planet inhabited by intelligent aliens and not make contact with them? Unthinkable!"
A woman with thickly curled brick-red hair, sitting across the table from Kosoff, objected, "But the shock of contact could harm them. That's what the psych team believes."
"That's a risk we'll have to take," Kosoff replied, his eyes fixed on her. "We are not going to throw away this opportunity."
Excerpted from Apes and Angels by Ben Bova. Copyright © 2016 Ben Bova. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
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